The Bronze Serpent Raised up in the Wilderness (Numbers 21:4-10)
After another bout of kvetching (complaining) and rebelling against God’s anointed and appointed leadership, Moses, God sends a judgment of serpents into the camp, which starts killing off the complainers.
The chazal (sage) Rashi explains that God chose snakes for two reasons.
The serpent in the Garden of Eden was punished for speaking words of slander against God. God sent the serpent, who was punished for speaking slander, to punish those who were guilty of speaking slander.
The second reason was that the serpent had been cursed to eat dust all the days of its life. God sent the serpent, who was punished by being given a diet of dust, to punish those who complained about their food.
When we allow ourselves to slip into self-pity and we give expression to a critical spirit, we are already victims of the evil one. He is a professional slanderer, the accuser of the brethren and the origin of rebellion against God. He was the very first to express discontentment with the lot in life God had assigned to him. When we show ingratitude toward God and complain about His ways, we are speaking the serpent's native tongue. His venom is already poisoning our hearts.
The solution – the only solution - to the problem is verbal confession and repentance. The Israelites went to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us" (Numbers 21:7).
Their words encapsulate the gospel message. Yeshua is our Moses, the One greater than Moses –“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you – from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. 6 But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in
The serpent is the devil, the adversary. We are the sinners, the ones who have fallen short and missed the mark. If we want to be healed and delivered from the whiles of the adversary, we need to repent, confess our sins and seek the forgiveness and cleansing that is extended to us by God’s mercies, in the person of Yeshua, our Messiah!
The Hebrew word translated as "pole", "standard" is ‘nes’ – נס – which means, pole, miracle, sign. Yeshua's death was both a miracle and a sign. The Son of Man had to be raised in the same way than the bronze serpent – John, chapter 3. Also, John 12.
As soon as the Israelites asked Moses for forgiveness, he interceded on their behalf and acted upon the Father’s instructions. The plague ceased and those who were already bitten by the serpents, when the gazed upon the serpent raised up upon a ‘nes’ (pole) in the wilderness, they were healed.
Rashi points to this as an example for how we should also be quick to forgive others. Paul says “the things that happened to them (Israel), were written down for our instruction upon whom the ends of the ages have come’ (1 Cor 10:11). Rashi says, "From this we learn that a person who is asked for forgiveness should not be so cruel as to withhold forgiveness." Disciples worthy of Yeshua will be quick to extend forgiveness even to those who have spoken derisively against them or humiliated them. We are commanded to do so as revealed in the exchange between our Master and His talmidim (disciples) as recorded in Luke 17:2-5. Notice that to heal the sick, drive out demons and raise the dead – no problem! But, to forgive others. This passage in Luke 17 is the only recorded instance of the disciples asking for and increase of faith!
When the people acknowledged their sin, HaShem showed Moshe the solution and he interceded, and the, raised up the bronze serpent on the pole. The LORD provided the antidote to the attack of the serpents but, Moses had to act with the revelation that God has provided. The secret to their healing and recovery was to look carefully at a copper serpent that was hung from a pole. By watching it attentively mingling what they saw with faith in HaShem, they received life. Their vision – peering through the eyes of faith - saved them from death.
HaShem doesn’t specify what material Moses was to use to make the serpent. Moses elected to fashion it out of cooper; the Hebrew word for copper or bronze is ‘n’choshet’! It contains the letter ‘nun’, ‘chet’ and ‘shin’ – nachash – which spells ‘serpent’. It was a miracle within a miracle! The source of their destruction was also the source of their healing! And the difference was exercising faith in HaShem. We have to mingle faith with what we see or hear!
This required great faith because the serpent is not associated with life and wholeness. It was the serpent that led Adam & Eve to fall in unbelief which has tarnished mankind ever since. But, this was G-d’s ordained solution to bring about healing and life. We can never reject G-d’s solution to our life’s challenges. We might not fully agree or understand but we obey because He has spoken. It is a chukah – a conundrum – like the rite of the parah adumah, the red heifer.
When you follow Yeshua and are led by the Spirit, you will face moments that are beyond our comprehension for we all ‘see through a mirror dimly and understand only in Part’ (1 Cor 13:12). These experiences might well leave us confused and uncertain.
As a personal testimony, about 6 weeks after I came to faith, I was sitting with my bible open on my desk. And, reflecting back on those 6 -8 weeks, I thought that this was the best decision I had ever made. And then, I gazed down to read the scriptures. And, my bible was open in John 6:44 – “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day”. The translation I was reading at that time said “only those who are called can come”. And, I remember saying ‘hold on a moment. I clearly remember making that decision myself. Now, You are telling me that it wasn’t mine to make?”
And, I stumbled upon the mystery of predestination and appointed times, and my mantra for the next decade and in fact, for the past 37 odd years has been ‘perplexed but not downcast’ (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). God’s ways continually confound me and I have to put into practice ‘not by sight but by faith’.
Nicodemus, one of the elders of the Great Assembly got more than he bargained for when he approached Yeshua at night. Regardless of the extent of his desire to know, Nicodemus was not prepared for Yeshua’s answers. This night time discussion reveals a man struggling to believe in Yeshua. Yeshua seems to recognize Nicodemus’ honest desire for eternal life. Yeshua uses our Torah portion to help him identify his need for salvation in a word picture which he could understand.
13 " No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.
14 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;
15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
17 "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
And, then we reminded of Yeshua’s words in
31 "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.
32 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to
33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.
What we choose to gaze upon has a significant impact upon our soul and our lives. What we allow to enter through our physical and spiritual eyes has the potential of killing us or giving us life. When the woman saw that the forbidden tree was good, she took from its fruit and she died. When the people saw the copper serpent, they received life. Lusts of the eyes, of the flesh and boastful pride of life!
I am reminded of an International Fellowship of Intercessors (Johannes Fascius) conference that I attended together with Eliyahu ben Chayim, of blessed memory. This was in the early 90’s. I had the great privilege of sharing a few meals with Derek and Ruth Prince. And, I will never forget Derek’s words to me. ‘Herschel’, he said, “I am very careful what I watch or read or listen to, for how can I subject the Holy Spirit in me to those things’. And, I reeled away thinking I’m not there. And, to be honest, I am still not there!
How important to set one's vision upon something or rather, upon THE ONE, Who brings life and not death! All of mankind has been damaged by the poisonous residue of that first sin in Eden, and we will only truly be free from its influence when ‘mortality has been replaced by immortality’ (1 Cor 15:53).
And, the only solution for our survival is to fix our eyes of faith on the Lord raised up and believe in Him! That is the Father’s antidote and provision for each and everyone. The sacrificial death of the Son of Man is the Father’s standard or solution for the salvation of mankind. Yeshua is the only solution – the only means – that G-d has provided for both Jew and non-Jew. Without him, nobody escapes eternal condemnation and judgment.
The one who looks carefully with spiritual eyes at the empty execution stake and the empty grave, will experience victory and live as an overcomer. This is G-d’s promise and commitment to us in the Messiah!
25 "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;
26 "men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.
27 "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."
1 If then you were raised with Messiah, seek those things which are above, where He is, sitting at the right hand of God.
2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
But, at the same time, there is a caution. Don’t keep looking for new signs and miracles. Yeshua was crucified once, never to be repeated again. Be content and rest in the miracle of the risen Lord! In Him, you find ‘rest for your souls’.
Furthermore, the pole upon we raise up the sign and miracle of Yeshua is crucial; it is the pole of faith in God and His promises as revealed in His Word. It is the pole of the Kingdom raising up the One Who is the King of the Kingdom. We need Kingdom vision to enable and empower us by the Spirit to press on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3) in the midst of the shaking that is already in our midst.
This shaking ought not to surprise us because it is promised in the Word of God.
For thus says Adonai-Tzva'ot: "In just a little while I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and I will shake all the nations. The treasures of all the nations will come, and I will fill this House with glory," says Adonai-Tzva'ot. "The silver is mine and the gold is mine!"—it is a declaration of Adonai-Tzva'ot. "The glory of this latter House will be greater than the former," says Adonai-Tzva'ot. "In this place, I will grant shalom"—it is a declaration of Adonai-Tzva'ot.
This latter house consists of you and I – the saints - who are in the process of being built up to become the House of God, made up of living stones with Yeshua as our chief and corner stone, worthy of our high calling. We are a work in progress and as we navigate the journey of our sanctification, we are reminded of Messiah’s words that it is indeed a narrow way (Matthew 7:13). And this latter house made up of living stones will be the first in line to experience this promised shaking (1 Peter 4:17).
And so, as we navigate our journey in these confusing and uncertain times, let us remember God’s caution spoken through the Apostle Peter
1 Peter 4:12-13
Loved ones, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal taking place among you to test you—as though something strange were happening to you. Instead, rejoice insofar as you share in the sufferings of Messiah, so that at the revelation of His glory you may also rejoice and be glad.
Our journey is incremental and progressive, and it is only when we cling to Messiah’s tzitzit and lift Him up, that we are able to endure.
Rav Sha’ul, in Romans chapter 5, highlights this journey of our sanctification:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but
(i) we also glory in tribulations, knowing that
(ii) tribulation produces perseverance; and
(iii) perseverance, (produces approved) character; and
(iv) character (procures) hope.
Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
May you and I encounter the One who is our living hope and may He return speedily and even in our day, we ask and pray beshem Yeshua! May He be raised up in order that the 'glory of the Lord will cover the earth and surely as the waters cover the seas" (Hab 2:14).